THE BOY AND THE BOOK
A long time ago in a place you know well, a boy named Simon sat on the edge of the great Oquirrh Lake. This was in the time before the Oquirrh Forest was chopped down by woodsmen and farmers, when the forest hid the lake behind dense trees. This made the lake seem to stretch almost as far and wide as you could see, and sometimes Simon would go to the edge of the dock to watch the fish swim by.
It was a particularly windy morning in autumn, and Simon rested with his legs dangling into the water, humming a little song to himself and watching as the fish swam between his feet. The wind bustled back and forth, blowing his cloak gently in the wind, and occasionally dipping the edge into the water. Simon enjoyed listening to the sound of the wind, as it sometimes carried birdsong, or the humming of his mother in the yard far away. This afternoon, however, the wind was quiet and Simon could hear the gentle splashing of the water against the dock and--
Sob sob sob
Another sound caught Simon's attention. It was quiet at first, like a frog's feet against grass, but slowly got louder and louder until it sounded like the sobbing was very close to him indeed. Simon looked around puzzled. He was familiar with most of the sounds of the forest, but this one was new.
Sob sob sob
Simon pulled his long, lanky legs from the water and stood up. The wind tussled his shaggy chestnut hair, and he pulled his cloak tighter against his neck before turning to the source of the sound. It seemed to be coming from a few feet away, among the reeds and tall grass, and Simon spoke as he walked towards it:
"Hello, strange noise, is someone there? Who is hiding in the reeds? Why're you so sad?"
But he received no reply.
He continued walking closer to the thick reeds, one foot in front of the other, until finally he was at their edge. With both hands he gently parted the reeds.
There, sitting on a rock in a small clearing among the tall grasses, was a figure in all black. The shape's face was obscured by a dark, heavy hood, and the slender figure shook a little bit with each new sob.
Sob sob sob
"Excuse me," said Simon, "are you all right? Is something the matter?"
The figure stopped suddenly, and a quiet filled the air. From within the grass clearing you could not hear any of the outside world, and it suddenly occurred to Simon how still and silent the world seemed here.
"I'm sorry," the shape said, "I didn't hear you there." Given how quiet the world now seemed, Simon could understand that. "Pay me no attention, child. I am an old man simply thinking about his lot in life." The figure pronounced the word 'life' strangely, and Simon felt a chill run down his spine. He drew his cloak tighter once more.
The figure remained seated on the ground, mostly still except for the occasional shake. Simon surveyed the situation, still struggling to understand what he was seeing, when he noticed a dusty brown object on the ground near the figure. The object appeared to be a book, housed in worn, old leather, of a great thickness. Simon wondered if the figure had come to the lake to read before he instead decided to cry.
"Ahh," the shape said, "I see you've noticed my book. Go ahead. Take a look inside."
Naturally curious, Simon bent down and reached for the book. Because of the thickness of the book Simon expected it to be very heavy, but it lifted off the ground very easily, and almost seemed to not weigh anything at all. He surveyed the cover, tracing his thin, boyish finger over the faded writing on the front.
"The Book of Life and Death?" asked Simon. The figure inhaled sharply. "Why are you reading a boring old book like this? Do you have to read this for school?"
For the first time, the figure laughed. "No," the figure said, "I'm much too old for school. I read for pleasure, and for work, depending on how I feel."
Simon looked up from the book and eyed the figure skeptically.
"I don't know," Simon said, "it sounds pretty boring to me. I bet this would make a great doorstop or a table for squirrels or a--"
"Oh, but it's not," the figure interrupted. "It's so very interesting. Why don't you open my book and take a look inside?"
"No thanks," Simon said, tossing the book back to the ground. "I'm just plain done being educated today, and I don't feel like reading one single extra word."
Upon this, the figure started to cry again, this time even harder than before. Simon instantly felt guilty, and wondered if the casual way he had thrown the book to the ground had hurt the figure's feelings.
"Oh," wailed the figure, "what a pitiful thing am I! Too sad for a day like this, and too boring for a young man like yourself!" The figure sobbed and heaved, and Simon began to feel uncomfortable watching it happen. "If only you were to open my book, I'm sure you would find it quite exciting. I wish I had a young person, with strong eyes and a sharp mind, to read to me on a day like this! Oh, what I wouldn't give for a person like that!"
Suddenly Simon was filled with an incredible sense of guilt. Here he was, young and happy and alive, enjoying a beautiful fall morning, and there was that pitiful shape, sitting sad and alone, wanting only some companionship. He reached for the book as a peace offering and, as he did, the figure went silent. Simon picked up the book, holding it in his hands, and stuck a finger underneath the cover. What could be the harm in reading him a page or two?
Opening the cover, the book flew from Simon's hands and shot into the air. Suddenly the gentle autumn wind became fierce, and Simon's cloak whipped violently against his back. The figure began to rise, turning to face Simon at last.
"Thank you, boy," the figure said, and Simon immediately recognized him as Death. "I've been sitting here for so long waiting for somebody to come by that I thought I might... well, who knows!"
Death cackled at his own joke.
"Can't have Death with a little bit of life first, after all!"
Death stretched, popping his lanky bones magically into place, and shook his tunic off. Simon stood terrified, his eyes fixed on Death's grim face. When his eyes finally darted away for a second, perhaps looking for a chance to flee, he noticed Death's book had stopped hovering and had fallen to the ground out of Death's sight.
"Oh, lighten up, kid. I'm just Death, nothing to be afraid of. Well, unless you're on my list." Death laughed again. "You're not, though. Not on my list, I mean. I've only got one stop this morning. Daisy something-or-other... you know her?"
Simon did, in fact, know her. In the few short years of his life, Simon had only loved three things:
And Daisy Watson.
Dark-haired and freckled, Daisy was a year older than Simon, and lived on a little farm across the lake with her parents. While Simon's mother tended to sewing and washing for families in town, Daisy's father ran a very respectable livestock business. On the occasion that both Simon and Daisy's families were in town, such as the yearly town fair, Simon would make every effort to see Daisy, although he wasn't sure she knew he existed. She was smart and confident, tough to people but kind to animals, and to Simon she was perfect.
"You wouldn't happen to know where I can find her, would you?" Death asked. Simon stood frozen in place, his eyes still locked on Death's book now hidden within the tall grass. Death waited expectantly.
"Naw, guess not. A girl like that wouldn't know a twerp like you, am I right?"
Death threw his head back and laughed. Simon felt a hot flush of embarrassment rush to his face. His stomach was rumbling, and he noticed his hands had started to shake a little. Death composed himself, dusted off his bony hands, and lifted into the air.
"Well, guess I got stuff to do, people to reap, stuff like that. See you later, short stack!"
With that, Death slid silently through the tall grass opposite Simon and disappeared.
Simon stood in place for a moment, unable to move. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath, and opened them again. He was alone in the clearing, but the sounds of the lake had returned. A few feet ahead he could hear fish splashing and the wind bustling and, just for a moment, Simon wondered if the whole thing had been a dream, except...
The Book of Life and Death rested at an odd angle in the dirt, partially obscured by the tall reeds surrounding it. Simon gently bent down and picked the book up again. It felt much heavier this time, but as Simon cracked the book slightly, nothing happened. A thousand thoughts raced through his mind, but two in particular kept repeating over and over:
I need to find Daisy.
This book must have been important to Death if he needed me to open it so badly.
Simon opened the cover and turned to the first page. Written on the first page, in jittery handwriting, were the words
THE BOOK OF LIFE AND DEATH
PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL
OFF THE RECORD TRANSACTIONS
DO NOT READ
THIS MEANS YOU, OK?
Simon steadied his hands and thought for a moment. If this was indeed Death's own book, there may be some helpful information within.
Springing from the tall grass and reeds, Simon burst onto the shoreline. His eyes darting back and forth from the page to the trail, he began walking towards the other side of the lake, and started reading...